Flag Of Iceland: History And Meaning

The flag of Iceland is the national flag of this European republic, located north of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a dark blue cloth with a superimposed red Nordic cross. The edges of this cross are white. This is Iceland’s national symbol since the country’s independence in 1944, and a very similar one was also used since 1918, in the final stage of Danish rule.

Iceland is an island that has historically been under the rule of other Nordic powers. For this reason, different symbols have been raised in the territory, mainly Norwegian and Danish, without there being a real relationship with the island. It was not until the 20th century when Iceland was finally equipped with a flag that was added to the style of that of the Nordic countries.

Like its neighbors, the Nordic cross is the national symbol identified on the pavilion, reflecting the unity among the entire region. In addition, it is said that the blue color represents the ocean and the sky, while the red would be the fire of the volcanoes. White would complete the landscape representing snow and ice.

History of the flag

Iceland was one of the last large islands in the world to remain uninhabited. Icelandic history begins with the arrival of the first men on the island, but the earliest existing records date back to 874, when the Norwegian conqueror Ingólfr Arnarson and his wife settled.

The place where the family settled was called Reykjarvík, and it is today the capital of Iceland. For almost two centuries, the colonization of Iceland, carried out mainly by Norwegians, extended.

Icelandic Commonwealth

In 930 the island’s leaders organized themselves by creating a parliament called Alþingi. This institution had great importance for being the largest instance at the island level. According to some sources, this would be the oldest parliament in the world, and it met in summer in sessions where the island’s leaders were represented.

This historical period was articulated in a form of state, called the Icelandic Commonwealth. The settlers developed the island and around the year 1000 a process of Christianization began.

During that period, the flags were unusual. However, the island did have a shield. This had twelve horizontal stripes with interspersed blue and white colors. Although there is no official meaning, it is presumed that it may be due to the number of þings or assemblies represented in the Alþingi.

Kingdom of norway

The collegiate institution of government in Iceland declined in the 11th and 12th centuries. That period is generally known as the Age of the Sturlung or the Sturlungaöld, as two main clans of this family have faced each other fighting for control of the island.

Finally, in 1220 Snorri Sturluson became a subject of King Haakon IV of Norway. After several decades of internal strife and conflict, Icelandic clan leaders accepted Norwegian sovereignty over the island and the Gamli sattmáli was signed , a pact that from 1262 left Iceland under the control of the Norwegian monarchy.

Norwegian sovereignty began to rule in a particularly difficult period for Iceland, with the Little Ice Age, which made agricultural activities extremely difficult.

Norwegian symbols

During that period, Norway did not have a flag, but the quintessential Scandinavian symbol was the raven banner. This would have had a semi-circular border. The raven would have been a symbol of Odin.

However, the Norwegian flag emerged rapidly, around the 13th century, across a royal banner. This was a derivation of the shield, in which the yellow lion, symbol of the monarchy, stood out. For the flag, it was overlaid on a red background.

Kalmar Union

The Norwegian reign over Iceland continued until 1380. In that year, the dynastic succession to this throne was interrupted when Olaf II died without descendants. That led to Norway joining Sweden and Denmark in a dynastic union, with Denmark at the helm. This status was called the Kalmar Union and was detrimental to the trade of Iceland, as part of Norway.

Theoretically, each state remained independent, but under the rule of a single monarch. The Kalmar Union kept a symbol. It is presumed that it was a red Nordic cross on a yellow background. This would be one of the first representations of the Nordic cross in this region.


Denmark and Norway were united through the Kingdom of Denmark and Norway from 1536, following Sweden’s withdrawal from the Kalmar Union in 1523. The elective monarchy with limited powers of the king changed dramatically in 1660, when King Frederick III of Denmark established a absolute monarchy, which became one of the strongest in Europe.

Faced with this situation, Iceland continued to be dependent on Norway and from the island they began to ask for autonomy. This request was constantly ignored and Icelanders were even subjected to situations of slavery.

During Danish rule, Iceland was converted to Protestantism and its ability to trade with another territory other than Denmark was restricted, from 1602 to 1786.

Attempt by Jørgen Jørgensen

One of the first attempts at an Icelandic state came from the Danish adventurer Jørgen Jørgensen. This expeditionary decided to travel to Iceland to try to get around the existing Danish trade blockade. After this first failure, Jørgensen attempted a second voyage which, given the refusal of the Danish governor of Iceland to trade with a British ship, decided to arrest him, proclaiming himself protector.

Suddenly, Jørgensen became a leader who promised the restitution of Alþingi and Icelandic self-determination. Two months later, the Danish government managed to restore sovereignty, apprehending Jørgensen. The flag raised in those months was blue, with three cod in the upper left area.

Danish dependency

The Napoleonic wars put an end to the royal union between Denmark and Norway after the signing of the Treaty of Kiel in 1814. Denmark kept the rest of the dependencies, including Iceland.

The Dannebrog, current Danish flag, was the one that identified the joint kingdom of Denmark and Norway. This symbol remained mythologized and legendary in Denmark for several centuries, but it was not until 1748 that it was officially established as a civil pavilion.

Denmark flag

Independence movement

Throughout the 19th century the Icelandic nationalist movement began to emerge, through leaders such as Jón Sigurðsson. In 1843 a new Alþingi was founded, emulating the parliament of the Icelandic Commonwealth. Finally, in 1874, Denmark granted Iceland the possibility of a constitution and self-determination. The rule was finalized in 1903.

The first flag proposals came from the hand of the painter Sigurður Guðmundsson, who proposed a falcon with outstretched wings as a national symbol in 1870. Although this first design became popular with students, it was soon discarded.

The need for a differentiated maritime symbol for Iceland was present in the Alþingi debates. The first proposal that came up in 1885 was for a red cross with white borders. The upper left corner would be reserved for the Dannebrog, while the rest would be blue with a hawk.

Benediktsson’s proposal

The poet Einar Benediktsson proposed a new pavilion for the island in 1897. Arguing that the colors of Iceland were blue and white, and that the cross was the Norse symbol, he raised a flag that was a white cross on a blue background.

This symbol became known as the Hvítbláinn (the blue and white) and was the most popular independence flag at the beginning of the 20th century. However, its resemblance to the flag of Greece brought problems in its adoption.

Proposal from Matthías Þórðarson

The current colors of the Icelandic flag came after a design by Matthías Þórðarson, in charge of National Antiquities. Before a group of students in 1906 he presented a blue design with a white Nordic cross and a red one inside it. This symbol has already acquired the traditional meanings of blue for mountain, white for ice and red for fire.

Royal promise

The proposals of Benediktsson and Þórðarson became popular and embodied intense political debates about the need to institutionalize a flag of their own. Between 1911 and 1913 the first parliamentary debate took place. Finally, in 1913 the Prime Minister of Iceland Hannes Hafstein proposed to King Christian X the approval of a royal decree.

The monarch accepted it and this document regulated the future adoption of the Icelandic flag and the role it was to play together with the Dannebrog. Later, in Iceland the prime minister appointed a committee in 1913 to study possible designs for the flag. Faced with the Danish monarch’s refusal to approve Benediktsson’s proposal due to its resemblance to the Greek one, the committee proposed two symbols.

The first of them was a sky blue flag with a white cross that had another red cross inside. In addition, the second model proposed was that of a white flag with a light blue cross and a white and blue stripe on each side.

Parliamentary debate

The debate for the approval of the proposals was tense and complicated. Prime Minister Hafstein intended to raise it in a joint session of both chambers, but the debate did not reach agreements even in the form chosen by the head of government. Different political groups demanded the approval of a special flag outside of the royal procedure.

Three proposals emerged from parliament. The first one consisted of Benediktsson’s blue flag; that same flag, but with a white pentagon in the central part and the tricolor of Þórðarson. Finally, the design with the pentagon was excluded.

Prime Minister Hafstein left office and was replaced by Sigurður Eggerz. The new head of government proposed to the king the three designs approved by the parliament and recommended that he opt for the tricolor.

However, Cristián X refused to approve it, arguing that this request should be made before the Danish Council of State. After this request was made and rejected, Prime Minister Eggerz resigned.

Special flag

Following Eggerz’s resignation, Einar Arnórsson took over as Prime Minister. Finally, he got that on June 19, 1915, a royal decree was approved with the establishment of a special flag.

The one finally chosen was the tricolor, but it did not have the status of an Icelandic symbol, so it could not be used on boats.

Final approval

In 1917 the government changed, before which the talks with Denmark were resumed to establish a maritime flag. In the framework of the First World War , the Icelandic parliament finally urged the government to seek the approval of a maritime flag via royal decree. One of the main reasons for this was the possible war ban on sailing under the Danish flag.

Prime Minister Jon Magnússon returned to Denmark to present the new maritime flag proposal to King Christian X. This was again rejected, but that did not imply the abandonment of the pressure by Iceland. The following year, in 1918, negotiations began for a new territorial relationship between Denmark and Iceland.

In the negotiations for the Act of the Union, it was established that Icelandic ships must use the flag of Iceland. In this way, a new flag was established for Iceland that came alongside its new political status.

The Icelandic flag was raised at the Government House on December 1, 1918. The creation of the Kingdom of Iceland and the approval of the royal decree with the new symbol put an end to the vexillological debate on the Nordic island.

Kingdom of Iceland

The autonomy of the Kingdom of Denmark continued to increase, until on December 1, 1918, the Kingdom of Iceland was founded as a sovereign state. However, this new country would be in a personal union with the Danish king, thus maintaining a new form of dependency, unable to manage its foreign policy and defense.

This new status took place within the framework of the end of the First World War , in which Iceland exercised an active foreign policy due to the inability to maintain the Danish line.

New flag legislation

Regulating the flag of the Kingdom of Iceland also resulted in complicated parliamentary debates. In 1941 a law was established that defined the Icelandic flag as ultramarine sky blue with a white cross and a fiery red cross inside. After years of stagnant debates, the flag bill was passed in 1944.

Republic of Iceland

During World War II, Nazi Germany occupied Denmark, before which Iceland returned to an independent foreign policy declaring itself neutral. However, British troops invaded the island, fearing a German outpost.

On December 31, 1943, the Act of Union with Denmark expired. As a consequence and taking advantage of the war in continental Europe, Icelanders voted in a plebiscite held in May 1944 to end the dynastic union and establish a new republican constitution.

Independence took place on June 17, 1944. Denmark, still occupied by the Nazis, remained indifferent. King Cristian X, despite feeling betrayed, sent a congratulatory message to the Icelandic people.

With independence, Iceland adopted a national flag and a coat of arms, adopting a law regulating their composition and use. The blue color changed to a darker version, and since then it has had no variations. The flag law was ratified in 1944 by the President of the Republic. In addition, the use of the flag and its conditions were regulated.

Meaning of the flag

The Icelandic landscape is what the country’s flag is meant to represent. For Matthías Þórðarson, designer of the flag in 1906, the representation of the colors would indicate blue for mountains, white for ice and red for fire.

Despite this initial interpretation, the representation of the color blue as a symbol of the sky and the sea has become very frequent. Also, red would represent fire, which is common in fields and also in volcanic eruptions.

In addition to all this, it must be taken into account that the Nordic cross is a symbol that represents Christianity. Also, the fact that all Scandinavian countries have a flag that includes it represents a spirit of unity between these nations.


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  3. Government Offices of Iceland. (sf). Icelandic National Flag. Government Offices of Iceland . Recovered from government.is.
  4. Karlsson, G. (2000). A Brief History of Iceland . Trans: Iceland.
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